114 hours

The plea went out on Thursday, May 14th. Eugene Melnyk, owner of the Ottawa Senators NHL team, was in desperate need of a new liver. If he didn’t receive a liver, he would likely be dead within days. Through the miracle of medical science, as an alternative to a liver received from a deceased donor Melnyk could receive a “live liver” donation – where a live person undergoes surgery to remove a large portion of their healthy liver, which is then transplanted into the sick person and the liver pieces in both patients actually regenerates to a healthy level so both people can continue living.

The fact that this is even an option is nothing short of stupendous in itself. But what is even more remarkable is the response to the public plea for a liver for Melnyk.

A healthy Eugene Melnyk, owner of the Ottawa Senators
A healthy Eugene Melnyk, owner of the Ottawa Senators

It was Thursday evening when the Ottawa Senators went public with Melnyk’s dire health situation. The 14th of May. By noon on Tuesday May 19th, an anonymous donor had undergone surgery and a piece of their live liver was being transplanted into Melnyk’s body.

Let that sink in for a moment.

The time span between Thursday evening (to be generous let’s say it made the 6pm news, although I think it was actually a bit later than that) and noon on Tuesday is five days.

Five days, or to put it another way…. 114 hours.

The response to Melnyk’s plea was huge. The hospital handling the transplant screened hundreds of applicants and then physically and psychologically scrutinized a handful of contenders before choosing the donor. It should be noted that doctors had already canvassed Melnyk’s family and social circle looking for a donor, unsuccessfully. One gets the impression that Melnyk did not want to make a public plea, but that there was literally no other option other than death.

Eugene Melnyk's last team photo, obviously very unwell.
Eugene Melnyk’s last team photo, obviously very unwell.

Intellectually, I understand all this. But I just keep coming back to those 114 hours. It literally took less than 114 hours for numerous people to offer to risk their lives for a perfect stranger. To volunteer to change their lives forever, including possible unforeseen future personal health issues, and side effects of the surgery, for a stranger. To be sure, he is a relatively famous and certainly very rich stranger. But nonetheless, he’s a stranger, and no matter how many of us might suggest we’d give our right arm (or perhaps a vital organ) for a million bucks, when push comes to shove you still have to face the white coated doctors when you’re being wheeled into what might be the last room to you see alive, all for a perfect stranger. Not to mention the fact that Canada has strict rules about not being able to profit from donating an organ, and the transplant network is almost fanatical about maintaining anonymity. So really, you’re giving that vital organ for…. Nothing, except your conviction that it’s the right thing to do.

Might Melnyk end up compensating this anonymous person somehow? Of course he might. Or he might not. The person might refuse any compensation or even to have their identity revealed. Or they might accept a big fat cheque. But none of that really matters to me.

What is most striking is the impact that one person can have on another person, in such an absurdly short period of time. Someone went from a normal average Thursday (morning coffee, 10:00am meeting, salad for lunch…) to offering to save a life, and then following through on that offer even before the next weekend rolled around.

Something about this really moved me, and I wanted to put it out there to a wider circle even though it’s gotten a lot of press in Canada. Imagine what it would be like to take action like that in our own lives? Imagine what it would be like if, rather than letting time slip by us through the grinder of our own routines, if we all did a little something to make life better for someone else? The possibilities are, truly, limitless.

Mr. Melnyk was released from hospital today, and the anonymous donor has also been released and is doing extremely well. The hospital in Toronto has reportedly never lost a live liver donor or a recipient. And perhaps most amazingly, 26 of the people screened for Melnyk’s case have said they would consider giving to another stranger in need of a liver, someone decidedly less famous.

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